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If Only…
by Peggy Vaughan

Most of us live each day as if we'll live forever. We wait for some future time to do, use, be whatever we envision ourselves doing or using or being "Someday." I have long recognized this tendency in myself.

I want to share a remarkable account of a how dealing with the loss of a loved one led to a keener awareness of the fact that every day is a gift. (While the author of this letter in unknown, the sentiments may have relevance for many people.)

My brother-in-law opened the bottom drawer of my sister's bureau and lifted out a tissue-wrapped package. "This," he said, "is not a slip. This is lingerie." He discarded the tissue and handed me the slip. It was exquisite; silk, handmade and trimmed with a cobweb of lace. The price tag with an astronomical figure on it was still attached. "Jan bought this the first time we went to New York, at least 8 or 9 years ago. She never wore it. She was saving it for a special occasion. Well, I guess this is the occasion." He took the slip from me and put it on the bed with the other clothes we were taking to the mortician. His hands lingered on the soft material for a moment, then he slammed the drawer shut and turned to me.

"Don't ever save anything for a special occasion. Every day you're alive is a special occasion." I remembered those words through the funeral and the days that followed when I helped him and my niece attend to all the sad chores that follow an unexpected death. I thought about them on the plane returning to California from the Midwestern town where my sister's family lives. I thought about all the things that she hadn't seen or heard or done. I thought about the things that she had done without realizing that they were special.

I'm still thinking about his words, and they've changed my life. I'm reading more and dusting less. I'm sitting on the deck and admiring the view without fussing about the weeds in the garden. I'm spending more time with my family and friends and less time in committee meetings.

I'm not "saving" anything; we use our good china and crystal for every special event - such as losing a pound, getting the sink unstopped, the first camellia blossom. I wear my good blazer to the market if I feel like it. My theory is if I look prosperous, I can shell out $28.49 for one small bag of groceries without wincing. I'm not saving my good perfume for special parties; clerks in hardware stores and tellers in banks have noses that function as well as my party-going friends'.

"Someday" and "one of these days" are losing their grip on my vocabulary. If it's worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want to see and hear and do it now. I'm not sure what my sister would have done had she known that she wouldn't be here for the tomorrow we all take for granted. I think she would have called family members and a few close friends. She might have called a few former friends to apologize and mend fences for past squabbles. I like to think she would have gone out for a Chinese dinner, her favorite food. I'm guessing - I'll never know.

It's those little things left undone that would make me angry if I knew that my hours were limited. Angry because I put off seeing good friends whom I was going to get in touch with - someday. Angry because I hadn't written certain letters that I intended to write - one of these days. Angry and sorry that I didn't tell my husband and daughter often enough how much I truly love them. I'm trying very hard not to put off, hold back, or save anything that would add laughter and luster to our lives. And every morning when I open my eyes, I tell myself that it is special.

Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experience to savor, not endure. I'm trying to recognize these moments now and cherish them. Every day, every minute, every breath truly is...a gift.

(End of anonymous letter.)

During the past couple of years, I've posted a number of articles on our Website related to living life fully so that we have fewer regrets at the end of life. Some of these previous pieces include:

One of the activities included in our Life-Planning Workbook" (which you can see at www.life-planning101.com) is called "If Only…" in which you are to imagine you've just been told you have a terminal illness and only have a month to live. What would feel the most unfinished about your life? How would you complete the sentence: "If only ..." ("If only I had..." or "If only I could...") Ironically, it's not always some big, important thing that we would cite as wishing for; often it's simply more appreciation for and enjoyment of the basic pleasures of life.

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